Lumber Street was one of the first streets laid out beyond the city wall. It corresponds to the present Trinity Place between Exchange Place and Liberty Street.
The street first appears on Manhattan maps beginning about 1695, prior to the granting of the surrounding land to Trinity Church in 1705. The church yard was situated along the east side of Lumber when the original church was constructed facing Broadway near Wall Street. In 1761, the church ceded the land that ran along the line of Lumber Street to the northern boundary of the church property, which bordered on the farm of Leonard Lispenard near present day Leonard Street. Lumber Street was renamed Trinity Place after the church in 1846.
Church Street, named for St. Paul’s Chapel, was established on the portion of the ceded property north of Fulton. In 1869, the portion between Fulton and Liberty Streets was opened, connecting Church to Trinity Place. Although the full street was officially named Church Street, the portion south of Liberty is still known as Trinity Place. (The present division between Church Street and Trinity Place is now at Cortlandt Street.)
The name Lumber Street probably has its origin in the street’s position near the waterfront, near lots where goods were piled. It is interesting to note that early New Yorkers used the names Lumber and Lombard interchangeably for the street, creating some confusion. In 1792, the Common Council officially noted the problem and ordained that the street officially be called Lumber.
This settled the issue of the street’s official name, but the confusion was still compounded by the presence of Lombard Street on the other side of the island. The Council again tried to clear up the matter by renaming Lombard Street in 1809 as Lombardy Street. This may not have completely solved the problem, for in 1831 Lombardy was changed to Monroe Street, a portion of which still exists. After Lumber Street was changed to Trinity Place in 1846, New Yorkers would no longer have to worry about confusing the two streets again.
And confused they were; a city directory from 1807 warned, “Care should be taken to understand the difference of the spelling of Lombard and Lumber, as the want of attention to this has led many strangers astray.”
While to the modern English-speaker, Lumber and Lombard may not seem so similar as to cause confusion, one can imagine the words sounding very much alike when spoken with the British-tinged inflection of an original Yankee. Indeed, the word “lumber” in the sense that refers to a pile of disused furniture or other useless stuff is believed to come from the phrase Lombard shop, a British term for a pawn shop.